26, Amy had it all: A happy marriage, a new baby, and
-- breast cancer
By Diane Denning
December 10, 2008 | Amy and Trevor
Merritt were content with their life. They had been
married for two years and had a 1-year-old daughter.
Late one night in August of 2007, after nursing her
daughter, Amy said she felt a "pea-sized lump," in her
Amy was just 26 years old, so she
figured it was just a clogged milk gland, but just to
be on the safe side decided to go to the doctor to have
it looked at. The doctor didn't seem too concerned about
it and told her to come back in three weeks. After those
three weeks, the doctor's outlook seemed the same, but
he suggested sending her to a surgeon "just to be safe."
An ultrasound didn't show anything, but the surgeon
wanted to remove the lump, "just to be safe." The doctor
removed a quarter-sized lump then Amy waited to see
if it was malignant.
"I wasn't too worried about
it," Amy said. "But it was still in the back of my mind,
so I called the doctor for the results." She wasn't
prepared for the news that came from the other end of
the telephone. The biopsy came back positive; she had
According to the American Cancer
Society, 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast
cancer sometime in their life. Amy had heard those statics,
but never thought she would be part of the 12 percent
who actually got breast cancer, especially at such a
"I was shocked," she said.
"I didn't have breast cancer in my family and I didn't
expect this news."
When Amy told her husband Trevor,
he too had a hard time believing it. "My immediate reaction
was to go into defensive mode," Trevor said. "I kept
telling myself over and over again, my wife has cancer,
my wife has cancer. I couldn't get it to set it. I didn't
want it to set in."
This started the beginning of a long
journey filled with chemotherapy, radiation and numerous
surgeries. First Amy had seven or her lymph nodes removed
from her right armpit and breast. Then, she started
"Chemo consisted of six treatments,"
Amy said. "Each treatment lasted about four hours and
then I was sick for about three days after."
"During the chemotherapy, a
lot of what I felt was helplessness," Trevor said. "She
would start feeling better a few days after the chemo,
then we would take her in for another treatment, and
she would get sick again. I felt like we were taking
her in get more poison."
Amy didn't let anything get her down.
"Chemotherapy can be a really good experience if you
want it to be. I didn't want to hear anything negative,
I wanted to focus on the positive," she said. "Cancer
has the word 'can' in it, and that is what I focused
Amy was aware that one of the side
effects of chemotherapy was hair loss, but she didn't
realize how hard it was going to be for her to actually
"This was probably the hardest
part, losing all my hair," she said. "It just wasn't
me. I ended up shaving it off and putting a wig on because
it was falling out in clumps. I didn't want anyone to
But, Amy soon became comfortable
without her wig and chose not to wear it all the time.
Her neighbor Tahnean George said, "My 4-year-old daughter
saw Amy walking around the neighborhood without her
wig on and asked her, 'Why do you have a boy's hair
cut?' Because Amy was so comfortable with the fact that
she had cancer, it made those around her comfortable
After chemotherapy, Amy started radiation
at McKay Dee Hospital in Ogden Utah. "Chemo ruined my
taste buds," Amy said. "With radiation I was finally
starting to feel better.
"I heard this quote early on
in my cancer treatments that said, 'Life isn't about
waiting for the storm to pass. It's about learning to
dance in the rain.' This became my motto," she said.
"I promised Amy she would be
OK and we would make it through," Trevor stated. "Amy's
attitude was always positive and that is what helped
her the most."
Lacey Fellows is a radiology oncology
nurse and the breast cancer coordinator at the Cache
Valley Cancer Treatment and Research Clinic in Logan,
Utah. "If something has changed in your breast, you
need to get it checked out," Fellows said. "You need
to be your own advocate. Be aware of any unusual shapes,
feelings, or discharge from the nipples."
Fellows said women of all ages need
to be doing self exams monthly, usually two weeks after
their period. Guides and pamphlets are available at
the cancer center and online for those who aren't familiar
with how to do a self exam.
"Don't be embarrassed," Fellows
said. "You have to get to know your own breast. Every
woman is different. Your doctor doesn't know your breast
like you do."
According to the American Cancer
Society, women at the age of 20 have a 1 in 1,837 chance
of getting breast cancer within the next 10 years. Women
at the age of 30 have a 1 in 234 chance, and women at
the age of 40 have a 1 in 70 chance. The numbers keep
decreasing drastically as women become older, until
the lifetime risk of getting breast cancer becomes 1
Women of all ages are susceptible
to breast cancer. According to Young Survival Coalition
more than 11,100 women under the age of 40 will be diagnosed
with breast cancer this year. And there are more than
250,000 women living in the U.S. today who were under
the age of 40 when they were diagnosed with it.
Dr. Nancy Elliot, in an article entitled
"Hope and Heroes" in Curves magazine, said "If
you've got breasts, you're at risk." The article goes
on to say only 5 to 10 percent of breast cancer is caused
due to genetics. And, according to the American Cancer
Society, there aren't any guaranteed ways of preventing
breast cancer yet.
Amy found her lump early when it
was at a stage one. Because of early detection she is
a survivor, and is currently cancer free at the age
"Until you experience breast
cancer in your family or you experience it yourself,
you just don't fully understand," Amy said. "One thing
I want all women to know is to be aware of their own
bodies. Breast cancer is very treatable when you catch
it early. You just can't be embarrassed."